Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Lovely Macaw

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those he has.” Epictetus

For the last few months a Macaw has been taking shape on our dining-room table for Doris has been latch-hooking a Macaw, It is a picture that may end on one of our walls. This bird is the same colour as the one we had back in the 60’s when we lived in Rio. That Macaw also had a bright gold breast that included the underside of its immense wings and added to that the almost iridescent blue body. In any case the picture on the table reminds me of the bird we once had.

I recall one day when I was feeding it that it was out of humour and it bit my finger so it bled. Remember, Macaws feed on many jungle fruits but it was more important to remember, it can break the shell of the Brazil nut to get a lunch. It is only one of three animals that can crack open that tough nut. This is how it manages the task. It holds the nut with one foot and then bit by bit peels away the shell. A strange part of their diet in the wild is certain clay banks along rivers. It was thought the clay provided an antidote to their diet of certain foods that were thought to be toxic. However lately it has been found that the birds choose clay that is high in sodium.

The Macaw is a long-tailed bird of the parrot family that comes in different sizes and a variety of colours including green, red, yellow, blue and some bits of black. Unfortunately a couple of the sub species of Macaws are now extinct and most of the others are endangered and are now protected. That raises the question of how we had a Macaw as a pet. Remember this, back in the 60’s before the rain forest began to have extensive cutting, there was no lack of birds and animals. It was common then for Macaws to be bought and sold. All that has dramatically changed—and just as well. It is noteworthy that the Macaw appears on one of the Brazilian bank notes.

So how did we come by our Macaw? I don’t have the slightest idea but I remember how we let it go. Neighbours there in Rio used to comment again and again about our beautiful Macaw and since we had learned during our time in Brazil that such comments meant we had a social obligation to give the bird to them. That is exactly what we did. You know the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I suppose it we were repeating our experience of owning a Macaw that somehow we would have freed it somewhere in the jungle. Remember this–a rain forest would have been a long way from the big city where we ministered. The question then would be, “Can it survive in the jungle after being fed by us during a number of years?”

Freedom—that is something to ponder for this beautiful bird. We may have seen on TV a video the beauty of Macaws flying with those huge wings and long trailing tail. But when I think of freedom for a Macaw I also ponder the freedom that our Creator has available for each of us. It is a freedom of the inner soul that comes through faith in Christ’s gift of mercy. We all understand how it is easy to fall into the bondage of guilt through failures in a personal history. Add to that the fear and uncertainly of the future—especially as we trek towards the end of life. That is when I think of the words of our Master who said of himself, “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”

I’m hoping that everyone who reads this blog may too know the joy of free flight–a freedom high above the darkness of some personal rain forest. May you rise up on wings as if you were lifted by those of a macaw.

 

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The Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio

William Shakespeare wrote, “God’s goodness hath been great to thee; let never day nor night unhallowed pass, but still remember what the Lord hath done.”

It moves me yet to think back to 1961when our family including two small children visited the Christ the Redeemer statue that spreads its arms over Rio. It symbolizes the protection and care those extended arms give to Rio and each of us every day. We never visited this stature during our first term in Brazil for we were working in the interior of the State of Sao Paulo and from there flew directly back to Canada for home assignment. It is not just the view of the statue that takes a person’s breath away; from the parking lot there are a good many physically demanding steps still to climb. But before I give you some mundane details, I want you to watch a short video of workers on top of the statue repairing lightning rods.

Click here and hang on tightly:  Wonderful view  To open use Ctrl and click.

From the video from the peak of the Corcovado mountain towering some 2,300 feet over Rio, I want to point out some of what you see of the city. The reason? Rio is the most gorgeous city in the world. On the left is the Bay of Botafogo some of which has been filled in to provide roads between Copacabana and the downtown area. Then in the distance is Sugar Loaf mountain perched on an a huge rock called Urca. A trip up Sugar Loaf is a must for any tourist. Then Leme point juts out in the ocean and our eyes understand why the world-famous Copacabana beach is what it is. Its white sand ends at the jutting rocks of Arpoador. From our perch above you will next see the Lake of Freitas and just beyond that Ipanema beach. Those scallops of lovely beaches go on and on with seemingly no end. How nice to walk in that sand in one’s bare feet!

Two things you will gather about this city: it is crowded between the water and the spine of mountains that separate the ocean from the Bay of Guanabara. And the mountains and rock are everywhere with spines extending into the Atlantic and separating one beach from another. When we lived in Rio how we appreciated the strange exotic beauty of this city! It is a city unlike any other in the world.

You’ve watched the video and with me you are amazed I am sure at the courage of these repairmen to walk that narrow arm and hand out to the fingers to make repairs. They risk their lives in spite of safety harness, all to keep the statue of Christ the Redeemer in shape and thus a symbol of our Eternal Christ’s watching always over us. Me? I truly believe in God’s protection, sent often by his angels to guide and watch over me and every one of us. I rest in the truth that divine overshadowing means I am not alone in this world. And you are not alone. Even pain and death are reminders to look up to the almighty arms.

As I watch those men working in life-depriving danger, I’m reminded that since good paying jobs are relatively scarce for working men this is no doubt the reason they would be willing to take on extraordinary risks. Then again, I’ve seen Christians take risk and tire themselves out to the point of exhaustion to make hope possible for others. At times that happens through medical clinics, schools and offering the love of the Christ. That love cannot be explained without understanding the Love of God—that love portrayed in the ministry and death of this Cristo Redentor. The statue of Christ the Redeemer above Rio has so much to say to us–everyone of us.

Adventuring on the Amazon River

“One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar.” Helen Keller

Nothing quite compares to a flight over the Amazon region with the world’s largest jungle interlaced with rivers. Doris and I have made that flight many times and looked down on the huge fresh water river, the Amazon. Me, I’ve wondered what adventures might await while travelling on the Amazon or its tributaries. When we lived in Brazil I’ve wished so many times to travel some of those exotic waterways of the Amazon basin–but hankering for it never made it happen.

No, neither of us ever made it to Manaus, the grand city on the Amazon that during the time of the “rubber barons” was known as the “Paris of the new world.” Remember Brazil with its rubber trees exported rubber to the whole world. Manaus is situated some 1,600 Kilometres from the city of Belem at the mouth of the Amazon. Since we cannot turn back the clock to the time when money poured into Manaus we’ll never visit its opera house that in those days equalled that of Paris. All we can do is to use our imagination to look into the unknown and imagine just what a visit to the Amazon would be like. You see, even with the industrialization of the Brazil, the background for most any thoughts about Brazil touches the mighty Amazon rain forest, its tributaries and all the marvels of flora and fauna of that huge area.

Let’s take an imaginary trip on the Amazon. Let’s travel by common river boat, the ones that carry goods and people–not a floating hotel geared to tourists. We’ll crowd our way up a rickety gangplank and find a place on the open deck where we might hang our sleeping bags. We’ll not focus on the little space we have nor on the commotion that might well include the cry of a baby held by its mother and wishing to be fed. We’ll want to board early to hang our hammocks away from the engines and the toilet. As for food you can eat their meat, rice and beans but if it does not suit our palate, we’ll have much of our own food with us and a little stove to aid preparation. Out on the water it is not long till we find we are accompanied by pink dolphins that live in this fresh water. We have our accommodations on board so we’ll not be stopping at any jungle lodge. But we do visit small villages built on stilts along the water’s edge and even stop at a place where we can leave our boat to walk on the soft while sand of the river’s beach.

The world’s largest rain forest seems to be an endless carpet of green on either side of our boat though with its width in places of three kilometres, it seems we are travelling the ocean itself. This green jungle covers some 10 million square kilometres and produces something in which we are each interested—that is one-third of the world’s oxygen. We stop at a home on the water’s edge and with a few questions we discover how these people survive; the jungle trees are full of fruit and the water teems with fish and though good soil is scarce the manioc root provides a good part of this people’s diet.

Now a little history–the most famous early voyage on these rivers was by a Spaniard Francisco de Orellano who though looking for food no doubt knew of the legend of El Dorado where the monarch covered his body in gold dust each day. When Orellano returned, his crew told tales of women warriors they called “the Amazons” and of course the story gave the region its name. Accounts later by Portuguese explorers note that the natives were primarily hunter-gathers but soon those contacts were not peaceful for diseases brought by the foreigners took a huge toll–then attempts to enslave them did the rest. Just consider: when the Portuguese came there were 4.5 million Indians while to-day there are fewer than 200,000 in the Amazon basin and a total in the country of just 300,000. (These stats are a few years old.)

Isolation describes the 9,600 riverside communities along the Amazon. To meet that need Christian mission groups have partnered up with Brazilian churches to travel the Amazon and its tributaries to provide ministries that include medical, dental and optical care. Strange as it may seem when there seems to be an overabundance of water, they also help to drill wells.  The larger mission boats with big teams provide much of the services mentioned as well as offering free Christian literature and Bibles. Other small boats are used to contact those who live on shallow rivers or where vegetation partially clogs the waterways.

How I wish that we had been able to take a work tour on the Amazon. One reason is that, since I like to fish I might have had the opportunity to wet a line and land one of those 2,000 species of fish. With one of those mission sponsored trips a person would experience life on the Amazon and have a chance to lend a hand to the poor who live along the waterways. That wasn’t ever possible for either Doris or me. But you could go if you wish. Just Google up the topic and I’m sure a door will open up for you. In our hearts we’ll be going along with you.

 

Politics in Brazil

“We learn from history that we don’t learn from history.” Friedrick Hegel

Politics in most countries is difficult to slice up so that truth is seen and understood. May I suggest whatever I write about the present government and politics in Brazil you need to take it with a grain of salt. Still to be able to unravel anything about Brazil we must attempt to understand something of the present leader of this country, Dilma Rousseff.

Rousseff is important to Brazil for she is the first woman elected to be president—that was years after being tortured by the country’s dictatatorship back in the 70s. Then it was all because of her left-wing activities. She followed president Lula da Silva also of the same PT party; he was a man who promoted income equality and he made some progress in this immense task. Remember it is thought that up to 30% of the population of the major Brazilian cities lives in slums. I have seen some of it—the horror of it grips my heart.

In any case Rousseff’s economic policies are not growing the economic cake as did during the past few governments that carried Brazil to seventh place among world’s economies. Under her government illiteracy has increased for the first time in fifteen years, even though her PT party has declared itself as defending the poor and the socially excluded. Then add to that a huge scandal in the government oil company Petrobras that has led to a $20 billion deficit this last year.

All this weighs on Rousseff so that during the last few months, according to Time magazine, only 23% of Brazilians feel she is doing a good or excellent job. Voters feel sour about their government and especially Rousseff so that she may not succeed in being re-elected.

With our background as missionaries in Brazil we must ask two question, the first is what effect will this have on Brazil’s million of poor favelados? I suspect desperation and unrest will increase when roads, water mains and electricity are not extended to the neediest of society. Add to that the general unhappiness as the economy shrinks building discontent from decreasing salaries in most levels of society.

The second question is how a difficult economy will affect the Christian church. Obviously it will make it more difficult for churches of any stripe to be able to keep their schools and clinics open and to build churches in poor areas. There is one small bright spot in this—with the high inflation rate the value of foreign dollars goes up and that will strengthen groups that go to Brazil to lend a hand.

I quote Time, “It’s going to be a rough ride—for Rousseff and her country.” My conclusion is that it will  be a rough ride for the church in Brazil especially as it attempts to minister to the poor. Still it always seems that the Christian church is able to grow when placed in difficult situations, even when there is persecution. As my dad used to say, “God is still on the throne” and I have faith that applies to the church of Christian believers around the world.